Open Season on Your Black Students

Melody Gerard- 7th Grade Houston ISD ELA Teacher

M. Gerard- Educator and Guest Blogger

Oscar Grant.  Unarmed and gunned down by a white police officer in Oakland, California, at a crowded train station.  22.  Black.

Trayvon Martin.  Unarmed and gunned down by a white, rogue neighborhood watch volunteer while visiting his father in Sanford, Florida.  17.  Black.

Darius Simmons.  Unarmed and gunned down in front of his mother’s home, while she watched, by a white neighbor who falsely accused him of theft in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  13.  Black.

 

When it seems that a country known as the land of the free is home to those brave enough to declare open season on African American young men, what implications does that have for our urban classrooms?

Within the last fifteen years, there’s been a push in education to make classroom materials, resources, and test questions seem more culturally sensitive.  The racial makeup of our urban classrooms requires deliberate efforts toward inclusivity.  And while school districts should be applauded for diversifying reading lists, and textbook publishers should be proud of including texts from different countries in literature books, and test makers should be recognized for changing the name “Johnny” in standardized tests to “Jamal,” black boys need more.

Our young black men must be seen as more than athletes and entertainers and treated as more than prey and criminals.  When you see a tall, black teenage boy, do you think, “I bet he can reach the beakers on the top shelf in the science lab,” or do you think he must be a great basketball player?  Does a young black boy in a hoodie make you think, “He made a wise wardrobe decision for rainy weather,” or do you assume he’s full of angst and up to no good?  Subconsciously imbedded ideas like these are why parents bury their children and teachers bid their final goodbyes to their students.  The notion of undervaluing black boys must be transformed, and classrooms create the perfect landscape for doing so.

Schools and educators must value the interests and opinions of young black men, and in many cases, help them form opinions about topics beyond sports and entertainment.  However, black boys have invested interest in these activities so they should be cultivated and even expanded.  If you have students who are interested in football, introduce them to rugby or hockey.  Have kids who enjoy hip hop?  Encourage them to develop a poetic voice. While educators have a captive audience in their hands, we should use that time to nurture and fortify the whole student.  The important idea is to help shape young black boys into global citizens, respected and valued beyond athletic abilities and entertainment.

The idea of the global citizen has long been reserved for the wealthy and privileged, yet the advent of social media has helped make this world smaller and cultural exploration easier.  Your black students should be encouraged to discover new things about the world.  Schools should seize the opportunity to expose our black male students to new cuisines, novel hobbies, and different careers.  Doing so will have far reaching effects.  Our black boys may develop interests that carry them to conferences, conventions, meet-ups, and competitions that don’t see many little, black faces, thereby closing the identification gap and promoting similarities.  In an effort to not create a generation of “suspicious” boys who project suspicion toward other minorities, our students also need exposure to different religious ideologies and political thoughts.  And, truthfully, we all could use more lessons in tolerance.

It’s not worth debating that many unsavory neighborhoods house public schools and single parents raise many of our students.  Some have incarcerated or addicted parents.  But some are raised in two-parent homes, attend church, take piano lessons, and have so many other stories that must be respected.  Do not assume that every black boy that crosses the threshold of your classroom is struggling with a hard home life.  Assumptions are why we’ve buried Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, and Darius Simmons.

Melody K. Gerard obtained a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Houston and a Master’s degree from University of Phoenix.  She is a 7th grade English teacher in Houston, TX.  She currently works at an all boys college preparatory academy in Houston’s historic Fifth Ward, a predominately African American and socioeconomically disadvantaged neighborhood.
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